The Perfect Hans

Alan Rickman died today, after a battle with cancer.  Only 69 — which is all too young in these days of countless medical advances and miracle drugs — he was an exceptionally talented and enormously accomplished actor who lit up stage and screen in a variety of roles, from serious to comedic, that attested to the amazingly wide range of his abilities.

For me, though, he will always be Hans Gruber, the brilliant, urbane villain in Die Hard who was one of the greatest movie villains ever.

hans-gruber-die-hardI know, I know:  it’s not fair to reduce an actor of Rickman’s achievements to one role — but I can’t help it.  Rickman was so perfect for the role, and his creation of Hans was so perfect for the film, that he almost single-handedly vaulted Die Hard from an impressive action movie into a classic of the genre.  Sure, Bruce Willis was great, but it was Hans that distinguished Die Hard from the run of the mill action thriller, because Hans was different from every other action movie villain.  Unlike the normal bad guys, he wasn’t slugging it out with the hero in an impossibly violent ending scene, nor was he some mindless psychopath.  No, Hans had depth, he had smarts, and he had a great plan and team — and it would have worked if only John McClane hadn’t stumbled onto the scene at the Nakatomi Plaza.

I may be alone in this, but I actually identified more with Hans than with McClane.  Hans wore a sophisticated, well-tailored suit, his dry wit was hilarious, his decision to pose as a terrorist to distract the cops and FBI cowboys from his plan to steal millions in bearer bonds was a stroke of genius, and he was ruthless and single-minded in his pursuit of his pay day.  When Hans objected to being described as a common thief — saying, indignantly, that “I am an exceptional thief” — I wholeheartedly agreed with him.  And, according to the news articles, many of the touches that made Hans unique and so intensely memorable were suggested by Rickman in the first place.

Rickman was great as Severus Snape, too, and I also thought he was hysterical as Alexander Dane, the would-be Shakespearean actor who bridled at playing an alien with a hackneyed catch phrase in a sci-fi TV show in Galaxy Quest, but those are only a few of the roles that made up a fine career.  It’s terrible when gifted actors like Rickman can die so young, but at least he left behind a record of his talents that his fans can enjoy again and again.  He will be missed.

The Office Microwave Smell Zone

Yesterday I was walking down the office hall at about 11:30 when I encountered a sphere of odor so pungent it had an almost physical impact.  It had the kind of potency that made me think “Whoa!” and quicken my step to get away as quickly as possible.

Yes, I was passing the office microwave.  There’s a reason why, on virtually every floor in our firm, the office closest to the microwave is vacant.  Unless you’ve experienced a tragic childhood accident that cost you your sense of smell, you’re going to get away from the zone of noxiousness at the earliest possible opportunity.

IMG_0130In our office, around the lunch hour, the microwave area is a kind of no-go zone.  During the morning, the machine might be used for more innocent activities, like coffee warming or preparing a bowl of instant oatmeal.  But at lunchtime, the appalling aromas emerge.  Maybe it’s that kind of preservative-laden putrescence that inevitably accompanies bad takeout Chinese food or a one of those ready-made diet meals.  Perhaps it’s that overcooked to the edge of burnt aroma that you get from some home-cooked leftovers. Or you might be treated to the thin, almost tinny taint of reheated tuna fish casserole that paints a firm mental image of a congealed mass of overdone noodles so hard you could break a tooth if you took a bite.

And then there’s reheated fish, which is easily the worst of all.  It’s quite possible that minor Balkan wars have been started over people who are on some new diet and insist on heating up fish in the microwave so they can stick to a strict regimen.  Microwaved fish is almost certainly the biggest cause of hysterical, pathetically pleading, exclamation pointed, passive-aggressive signage in the office.  (“Will whoever is using the microwave to reheat fish please have mercy on us and stop!!!”)  And, when someone transgresses and uses the microwave for fishy purposes, the smell seemingly never fully vanishes.  It lingers, like the guest who wouldn’t leave, and ultimately sinks down into the carpeting so that it can always stay with us.

In fact, conducting interrogations in the same room where people are microwaving fish could be a very effective method to break the will of terrorism suspects, but that tactic probably would violate multiple provisions of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.